How to Find Computer Files: Understanding File Pathing

Understanding file pathing is important for all computer users. Knowledge of where files exist and how to access them if needed is pivotal to understanding computer basics.

In this post we will go over what file pathing is, how to identify a file path, and what it is useful for.

What exactly is File Pathing?

File pathing refers to the location of folders and files within a computer’s file structure.

On a Windows computer the default application to view files is called “File Explorer.” On a Mac computer, it is called “Finder.”

Computers have hundreds of thousands of system files as well as personal files, but thanks to the structure of the file system they are all consolidated into a few top level folders. These folders then branch out into thousands of other folders.

For most users, understanding how to use the file structure begins with folders like:

  • Users
  • Desktop
  • Documents
  • Downloads
  • Pictures
  • Videos

Users will store all of their files in these folders. Unless people are careful, these areas can become unorganized and resemble a hoard of files. In order to accurately find important files users must learn how to organize these areas properly.

When organized well, these folders create a type of root system. The hard drive contains directory folders like the ones listed above, followed by subfolders that contain files. Subfolders can be nested within other subfolders.

The file path is the list of nested folders from the top to the actual document.

Not all file paths have to be long and intricate. Some may just be 2 or 3 steps from the root.



Using this image, we will identify the file path of the file shown in the explorer. Keep in mind Windows sometimes simplifies the nesting. We will show both the simplified path and the more complex path.

Shown in the red box above, we see the simplified file path to get to this transcript of a zoom meeting.

The simple path to this file is “This PC” as the root location, then “documents,” then the “Zoom” folder within documents, then the “2023-03-15 10.23.04 SDMinfo@’s Zoom Meeting document.”

If users click on the manila folder icon next to the file path, it will reveal a more detailed file path. For this example the non simplified path is:

This starts from the very beginning. The C: drive is the root, then the user name, OneDrive, Documents, Zoom, 2023-03-15 10.23.04 SDM info@’s Zoom Meeting.

The simplification is turning the C drive, user name and OneDrive into This PC. If there were multiple users, or not all files are stored on OneDrive, it could be important to identify the full file path.

Understanding this helps aid organization, as well as allows users to understand where a certain file is in case something needs to be edited, moved, or changed.

This can also be important when fixing or replacing critical files in a program’s file structure. These are typically advanced operations and should only be done if the user understands what they are doing.


The same file in the same structure on a Mac would look like this. Finder on a Mac provides several layout viewing options. A couple are shown here.

For more information check out these articles on Windows file pathing and Mac file pathing.

If you have specific questions about understanding file pathing, or if our terminology isn’t clear, please use our contact form to send us a message. Thank you!

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